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It was that time again. I looked at the clock. 5:25- T-minus 5 minutes until dinner time. I take a deep breath and mentally prepare myself for that battle that was about to begin. For the crying, negotiating, and the test of wills that is mealtime with a picky eater.
As a mom, I felt I did everything right up until this point. I made homemade baby food, gave him lots of options, didn’t force him and he ate great until he was about 18 months, then everything changed. I thought this is a phase it will pass, but one month turned to three, three to six, and I found myself dreading mealtime and wondering how we got here.
Fast-forward to today and our little guy has just turned 3 and while we are still working on his eating habits things have gotten better and we feel that we have turned the corner. Here are some tips and tricks to help you with your picky eater. We are using a lot of these with our son and while they can be time-consuming they do seem to be helping quite a bit.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help. We made sure that he was ok medically and nutritionally (no deficiencies). Following that, we sought out advice from an Occupational Therapist. We found out that our son may have some sensory issues that were contributing to his eating habits and she gave us some great advice and steps to take. Most of them are included below.
- Make mealtime fun. There are some great products that help make mealtime fun for your little one. Our favorites are these constructive eating sets, Game plates, and fun bites.
- Have two plates, one for eating and one for exploring new foods. Talk about the foods and their characteristics. Are they sweet, crunchy, salty, chewy, green, red etc. We also use a food chopper to let him (with a little help) chop and mash the food.
- Variety-Provide one food you know they like and a new one at each meal. Do not repeat those foods the next day. This seems like it could get out of hand but for us, we just did small amounts and just tried to keep a variety without buying a lot of extra food every week.
- Serve meals family style and help them serve themselves.
- Set a timer and have the child try to stay at the table until the timer goes off. Start at a time that is obtainable and move it up slowly.
- Have them help with clean-up. When mealtime is over help them dispose of the food and say “see ya pretzels” or “bye broccoli” etc. This seems simple but I believe it does help with our son.
- Organize your pantry. Take pre-packaged food out of original packaging. Some children fixate on label recognition instead of what the actual food is. Removing packaging and labels may help with this. Remember to use generic labels for expiration dates and prep instructions if necessary.
- Nothing except water for 2 hours before a meal. This one can be tough especially when you have a toddler crying and begging for a snack but we did notice a big difference in appetite when we held our little guy to this. Yes, he still got snacks and we didn’t starve him. We just kept ourselves on a schedule with eating and tried to space out meals and snacks.
These are very practical and somewhat simple ideas to help your little one work through their picky eating. Trying all of these may burn you out quickly so it may be best to pick a few and try those first. Then change strategies as needed. From one overwhelmed and frustrated parent to another… We are in this together and our sweet kiddos are worth it! I hope these tips help and your mealtimes are more peaceful!